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Missing Flight 370 search: More difficult to find than Air France crash of 2009

There are those, like the head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), who believe that, even with modern technology, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is the most difficult undertaking in history. Even more difficult than the search for the crashed Air France Airbus A330 that went down in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, an air tragedy to which Flight MH370 is often compared.

It took nearly two years to find the missing Air France plane.

Angus Houston sat down with CNN earlier his week (May 12), telling the news network that there was a major difference between the searches.

"The big difference between Air France 447 and MH370 is that the last known position, in terms of MH370, is at the top of the Malacca Straits, and then the aircraft continued to fly for an extended period after that," Houston said Monday.

Air France Flight 447 went down in the Atlantic Ocean on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. All 228 passengers and crew perished. Its sudden disappearance also prompted a massive international search for the missing plane.

"Whereas Air France, they had a very good last known position, which then turned out to be very close to where the aircraft was eventually found."

That could eventually prove to be the case with Flight 370 as well. The JACC are currently searching an area of the Indian Ocean where signals -- pings -- from black box locator transponders were detected. However, at least two of the four pings detected in early April are now believed by some searchers to be noises made by something other than the missing plane's black boxes. Authorities are still working on the assumption that the two signals detected prior to the two being dismissed possibly emanated from a weakened black box.

Houston noted the "groundbreaking work" of those doing satellite data analysis. Such analysis led to the information being used to conduct the current search to the west of Australia in the southern Indian Ocean. Prior to the satellite data analysis, the last known location of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 had been at the top of the Strait of Malacca, a narrow body of water separated western Malaysia from the island of Sumatra.

Even that location had been a surprise to Malaysian authorities. When civilian aviation officials had been apprised of the Malaysian military's detection of a low-flying northbound airplane to the west of Malaysia that fit the description of the Boeing 777 that had disappeared over the South China Sea, an aircraft they had already started searching for hours before, they had no indication that the jet would perform a U-turn and head south. Data gathered by a British satellite would lead authorities to the narrow their search west of Australia.

"Without that, we would be essentially searching the whole of the Indian Ocean, and I think the chances of finding the aircraft in those circumstances would have been slim," Houston told CNN.

He then predicted that Flight 370 would be found.

"I think by having this defined search area ... I think eventually we will find the aircraft."

Houston said that throughout the search for the missing plane, his primary concern had been for the families of the passengers and crew on board the aircraft.

"To have a set of circumstances where you don't know what's happened to your loved ones in circumstances such as this, it's just a terrible, terrible emotional trauma of all of those involved."

The families have waited two months for news concerning those aboard the missing plane. Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 8 en route to Beijing, China. There were 239 passengers and crewmen on board. Many had waited in hotels set up by Malaysia Airlines until early May. The company announced May 2 it would be closing the family assistance centers and urged everyone to go home and await further developments.

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